Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden tells the story of an illicit love affair between a high-society Japanese wife and her Korean maid. The film is an adaptation of Sarah Walters’ novel Fingersmith but Park chose to set it in 1930s Korea, when the country was under Japanese rule.
“I’m not sure anymore what really comes first. Suddenly there were two elements were important in my decision to stage this during that time,” Park tells MovieMaker Magazine. “There was something from the source material that I just could not take out, without which the story wouldn’t stand. One of them was this idea of the story being set in a time where there is still this idea of difference, and secondly I needed it to be a world where, just like in the source material, there’s this idea of a modern mental institute. In Korean history this was the only period of time where the class system was still very much a part of Korean society, and there was also this notion, or at least for some people, of a modern mental institution. Also, having one character be a Korean woman and the other a Japanese woman brought one more layer of difference between them to the dynamic, in that they are from two different nationalities. They are from two nations which bear animosity toward each other and that is an added obstacle for the women’s love. The more obstacles you place in their way to find love, the more moving it will be when they do come to find their love together. Looking back now I’m not sure whether one or the other came first—the first being the more pragmatic reasons of adapting the original to the Korean setting; the other being the addition of an extra layer of obstacles in the love story.”
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